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Mark Hanna: Republican Power Broker of the Gay Nineties

Marcus Alonzo Hanna was born in New Lisbon (today Lisbon), Ohio, a small community near the Pennsylvania border. He briefly attended Western Reserve College, but left to help his father in the family grocery store. Mark Hanna’s success in business led him in a variety of directions — coal, iron, railroads, steamships and banking. Having established his fortune by 1880, Mark Hanna turned his attention to politics. He was nearly unique among the figures of his day because his fascination with political power dwarfed his interest in accumulating ever greater amounts of money. In 1888, he managed the unsuccessful effort of Sen. John Sherman of Ohio to gain the Republican presidential nomination. However, his efforts in 1891 and 1893 to secure the governorship of Ohio for William McKinley were victorious. Hanna’s best-known political contribution came in 1896 when he engineered McKinley’s presidential nomination and election. The threat of William Jennings Bryan’s perceived radicalism enabled Hanna to raise huge sums of cash from frightened businessmen. In 1897, Mark Hanna was appointed to fill an unexpired Senate seat and the following year he was elected in his own right. He was noted as a friend of business and was a loyal and frequent advisor to the president. Following the McKinley assassination, Hanna advised Theodore Roosevelt during the anthracite coal strike, but later lost influence in the increasingly progressive administration. Mark Hanna died in 1904 on the eve of what may have been a titanic struggle against Roosevelt for control of the Republican Party. Mark Hanna is remembered as one of the most influential political figures of the late 19th and very early 20th centuries. He is credited with beginning the development of the modern political campaign in which a consistent message was delivered to a national audience. His conservatism has been overstated; he was equally critical of the exploitations of greedy businessmen and radical labor unions.